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S01__________________________
_____________________________
_____________________________
__________________________E05
GENERIC_SPECIFICITY:_Five____
__Points_on_an_Architecture__
________of_Approximation_____
BY_JOHNSTON_MARKLEE_________
1. GENERIC AND SPECIFIC:
Architecture’s most dramatic development in the last century – a century marked by the evolution of internationalism into globalism – has been the increasing fissure between the generic and the specific. While the International Style of early modernism assumed a generic form to standardize away the specificity of local contexts, the global architecture of late modernism has launched a countermovement of highly specific forms meant to invigorate and colonize localities newly homogenized by globalization.


2. DISTANT EXTREMES:
At a time when anything goes, when architecture does not celebrate shared values, when globalization is without global style, two poles of architectural production – global and specific on the one hand, local and generic on the other – are more distant than ever before.


3. DECEPTIVE ASSIMILATION:
Previous attempts to reconcile the gap between global and local production – from Venturi’s complexity to Frampton’s regionalism, from Rossi’s Analogical City to Ungers’s Dialectical City – have offered modes of resistance against the hegemonic imposition of international standards on local forms. But what if, instead of resistance, architecture today engaged in a form of assimilation to reconcile the chasm between the generic and the specific and between global and local space; instead of a top-down approach of subordination, architecture could engage in a bottom-up strategy of integration. Instead of a conspicuous burst of defiance, the avant-garde needs a Trojan horse.


4. THE GENERIC APPROXIMATES THE SPECIFIC:
An architecture of approximation assimilates local typologies, geographies, construction methods, symbols, traditions, and language as means to approximate a global form. At the scale of buildings, typologies and iconographies specific to a local context are points of departure. Through processes of abstraction and adaptation, they are suspended between the familiar and the foreign – hovering between vernacular indeterminacy and typological specificity.


5. A PROJECTIVE MODEL:
Approximation provides a projective model for architectural practice. It is universal yet intrinsic to individual constituencies. It does not reveal its taxonomy at the outset, but it slowly unveils its identity to those who give it time and attention. It does not beg to be understood but pleads for collaboration: it is imbued with meaning through use. Like a Hejduk masque, or a Team X intervention, it oscillates between contemplation and participation. It is not bespoke but loose fit, suggesting similarity but not sameness. An architecture of approximation provides a model for operating – one that takes shape beneath form in the threshold between global and local.

 
Image above: Jean Nouvel's Louvre Abu Dhabi, by Renate007 / Creative Commons.
 
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